Meta Incognita: A Discourse of Discovery

Paper Abstracts


Speculative Ambitions and the Reputations of Frobisher's Metallurgists
By Robert Baldwin

This paper considers the strategic metallurgical reasons why Elizabeth I and her Privy Councillors were persuaded to support reconnaissance of a northwest passage under Frobisher in 1576, noting that his next two voyages made in 1577 and 1578 to Meta Incognita were the product of a fevered speculative anxiety to exploit at once two major and distinctive new technologies: oceanic navigation and non-ferrous metallurgy. Here the crucial role of Schutz's experience and Germanic, Italian and Spanish practice encapsulated in various manuals is examined. Growing confidence in metallurgical skill provides the context in which the role of Frobisher's metallurgists and technical advisors is examined closely, for it persisted alongside an over-trusting respect among investors for the emergent disciplines of assaying. From 1577 to 1579 Schutz cleverly exploited his pre-existing reputation and even his failures at Dartford and in London to extract gold in commercial quantities from Meta Incognita's ores. The paper reveals: how and why the Privy Council then made prosecution of the metallurgists difficult; how and why Schutz and others advised Lok to act subsequently; and why the legal and socio-political plight of some of Frobisher's metallurgists made them vulnerable to espionage initiated by Spain.


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